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The U.S. is one of the only developed countries with no national paid family leave program. As a result, many workers must choose between caring for a loved one or maintaining an income.

That challenging —and often impossible decision— results from the fact that the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off for some family and medical reasons; however, that leave does not come with pay.

A study shows that 40 percent of workers who took family leave reported that they took less time off than they needed or wanted. Likewise, a different study found that of the 7 million American workers without paid family and medical leave, 36 percent needed to take family caregiving leave but couldn't afford to take any unpaid time off.

PFML on a State Level

A growing number of states have either passed or are considering the passage of their own Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) policies. Currently, nine states —up from just four in 2016— and the District of Columbia have PFML already in place or in line to take effect.

The Biden Administration's American Families Plan, which is before Congress, proposes to phase in over a period of 10 years a PFML program that would guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave for personal or family illness or parental needs, effectively bringing this concept to the remaining states.

What Is Paid Family and Medical Leave?

Although states can vary somewhat in their policies, Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) typically provides 6 to 12 weeks of fully- or partially-paid leave each year. PFML may be insured and is often funded by contributions from the employer and the employee.

A worker can use this time to:

  • Take care of their own serious illness
  • Provide care for a family member with a serious health condition
  • Have time with a newborn
  • In some cases, it is used when a family member in the military is deployed for service

PFML —and the lack of it for the majority of U.S. workers— has been in the spotlight in recent years due to the pandemic. Some employers enacted temporary paid leave benefits programs, and some took more permanent steps to change their policies during this traumatic time. However, these voluntary policies can vary widely in terms of what they offer.

What Is the Difference Between PFML and FMLA?

The big difference between PFML and FMLA is the letter "P" which stands for "Paid."

Quote block: The FMLA entitles an eligible employee to a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. It does not provide any paid leave. On the other hand, PFML is when eligible employees have paid, job-protected leave.

The FMLA is a federal law that provides certain employees with unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn or to deal with their own health or a family member's health.

Under the FMLA, the employer must maintain the employee's group health benefits during the time away. When the employee returns from leave, the employer must provide them with the same position or an equivalent position equivalent in pay, benefits, and status.

Another difference is that the FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. At this time, PFML policies are determined by state law.

Ten states and the District of Columbia currently offer PFML. The states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Three of those ten states have policies that will go into effect in the coming months. Maryland’s will come into effect on June 1, 2023, Oregon's PFML policy will begin on Sept. 3, 2023, and Colorado's is set to start on Jan. 1, 2024.

Additionally, Virginia, while it does not have a mandatory statewide policy will have an opt-in system that deals with some aspects of PFML.

Here is a table showing active or pending PFML laws in the states in question:

State PFML Status Length of benefits
California Active Up to 52 weeks in a 12-moth period
Colorado Inactive

(starts 01/01/2024)

Up to 12 weeks per application year
Connecticut Active Up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period
Maryland Inactive

(starts 06/01/2023)

Up to 12 weeks per benefit year
Massachusetts Active Up to 26 weeks per year
New Jersey Active Up to 26 weeks of medical leave for disability and up to 12 weeks of family leave per 12-month period
New York Active Up to 26 weeks per 52-week period and/or 10 weeks for family leave
Oregon Inactive

(starts 09/03/2023)

Up to 12 weeks per benefit year
Rhode Island Active Up to 32 weeks per 52-week period
Washington Active Up to 16 weeks per 52-week period
Washington D.C. Active Up to 8 weeks in a 52-week period

Since there is no federal mandate at this time, states, communities, and individual employers differ in their policies. The table shows that even among states with laws providing PFML, the rights can vary greatly.


Get a Free Leave of Absence Letter

FAQs about Paid Family and Medical Leave

  • Who pays for PFML?

    PFML often operates as a type of insurance program in which workers and their employers pay into an account. Workers who need to take time away from work (to care for themself, a child, or another family member, or help with family responsibilities due to the service of a military member of the family) draw on the policy's benefits while they are on leave. See the above table for more information on how PFML fits into an employment contract.

  • Does PFML include time off during a pregnancy?

    While PFML typically provides time off to care for a new baby, the policy doesn't necessarily include the pregnancy itself. If a worker needs to take time off before the baby is born, this period usually falls under pregnancy leave -- a combination of accrued sick days, personal days, vacation, holiday time, short-term disability coverage, and unpaid family leave time.

  • What is the difference between Paid Sick Leave and PFML?

    Paid sick leave (PSL) requires employers in certain states and municipalities to provide paid leave for short-term health needs and preventive care. As we have discussed, PFML is designed for longer-term needs. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont are the states that offer PSL. Of those states, Vermont is the only one that does not also provide PFML.

  • Are PFML payments taxable?

    Yes. PFML benefits are subject to federal rules on reporting income and paying taxes.

  • What are the benefits of PFML?

    Also called family caregiver leave or family leave insurance, PFML allows workers to take a leave of absence to care for themselves or family members without losing their income or jobs. The policy enables workers to manage serious health concerns or other essential family needs without jeopardizing their finances or careers.

The U.S. is one of the only developed countries with no national paid family leave program. As a result, many workers must choose between caring for a loved one or maintaining an income.

That challenging —and often impossible decision— results from the fact that the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off for some family and medical reasons; however, that leave does not come with pay.

A study shows that 40 percent of workers who took family leave reported that they took less time off than they needed or wanted. Likewise, a different study found that of the 7 million American workers without paid family and medical leave, 36 percent needed to take family caregiving leave but couldn't afford to take any unpaid time off.

PFML on a State Level

A growing number of states have either passed or are considering the passage of their own Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) policies. Currently, nine states —up from just four in 2016— and the District of Columbia have PFML already in place or in line to take effect.

The Biden Administration's American Families Plan, which is before Congress, proposes to phase in over a period of 10 years a PFML program that would guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave for personal or family illness or parental needs, effectively bringing this concept to the remaining states.

What Is Paid Family and Medical Leave?

Although states can vary somewhat in their policies, Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) typically provides 6 to 12 weeks of fully- or partially-paid leave each year. PFML may be insured and is often funded by contributions from the employer and the employee.

A worker can use this time to:

  • Take care of their own serious illness
  • Provide care for a family member with a serious health condition
  • Have time with a newborn
  • In some cases, it is used when a family member in the military is deployed for service

PFML —and the lack of it for the majority of U.S. workers— has been in the spotlight in recent years due to the pandemic. Some employers enacted temporary paid leave benefits programs, and some took more permanent steps to change their policies during this traumatic time. However, these voluntary policies can vary widely in terms of what they offer.

What Is the Difference Between PFML and FMLA?

The big difference between PFML and FMLA is the letter "P" which stands for "Paid."

Quote block: The FMLA entitles an eligible employee to a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. It does not provide any paid leave. On the other hand, PFML is when eligible employees have paid, job-protected leave.

The FMLA is a federal law that provides certain employees with unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn or to deal with their own health or a family member's health.

Under the FMLA, the employer must maintain the employee's group health benefits during the time away. When the employee returns from leave, the employer must provide them with the same position or an equivalent position equivalent in pay, benefits, and status.

Another difference is that the FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. At this time, PFML policies are determined by state law.

Ten states and the District of Columbia currently offer PFML. The states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Three of those ten states have policies that will go into effect in the coming months. Maryland’s will come into effect on June 1, 2023, Oregon's PFML policy will begin on Sept. 3, 2023, and Colorado's is set to start on Jan. 1, 2024.

Additionally, Virginia, while it does not have a mandatory statewide policy will have an opt-in system that deals with some aspects of PFML.

Here is a table showing active or pending PFML laws in the states in question:

State PFML Status Length of benefits
California Active Up to 52 weeks in a 12-moth period
Colorado Inactive

(starts 01/01/2024)

Up to 12 weeks per application year
Connecticut Active Up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period
Maryland Inactive

(starts 06/01/2023)

Up to 12 weeks per benefit year
Massachusetts Active Up to 26 weeks per year
New Jersey Active Up to 26 weeks of medical leave for disability and up to 12 weeks of family leave per 12-month period
New York Active Up to 26 weeks per 52-week period and/or 10 weeks for family leave
Oregon Inactive

(starts 09/03/2023)

Up to 12 weeks per benefit year
Rhode Island Active Up to 32 weeks per 52-week period
Washington Active Up to 16 weeks per 52-week period
Washington D.C. Active Up to 8 weeks in a 52-week period

Since there is no federal mandate at this time, states, communities, and individual employers differ in their policies. The table shows that even among states with laws providing PFML, the rights can vary greatly.


Get a Free Leave of Absence Letter

FAQs about Paid Family and Medical Leave

  • Who pays for PFML?

    PFML often operates as a type of insurance program in which workers and their employers pay into an account. Workers who need to take time away from work (to care for themself, a child, or another family member, or help with family responsibilities due to the service of a military member of the family) draw on the policy's benefits while they are on leave. See the above table for more information on how PFML fits into an employment contract.

  • Does PFML include time off during a pregnancy?

    While PFML typically provides time off to care for a new baby, the policy doesn't necessarily include the pregnancy itself. If a worker needs to take time off before the baby is born, this period usually falls under pregnancy leave -- a combination of accrued sick days, personal days, vacation, holiday time, short-term disability coverage, and unpaid family leave time.

  • What is the difference between Paid Sick Leave and PFML?

    Paid sick leave (PSL) requires employers in certain states and municipalities to provide paid leave for short-term health needs and preventive care. As we have discussed, PFML is designed for longer-term needs. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont are the states that offer PSL. Of those states, Vermont is the only one that does not also provide PFML.

  • Are PFML payments taxable?

    Yes. PFML benefits are subject to federal rules on reporting income and paying taxes.

  • What are the benefits of PFML?

    Also called family caregiver leave or family leave insurance, PFML allows workers to take a leave of absence to care for themselves or family members without losing their income or jobs. The policy enables workers to manage serious health concerns or other essential family needs without jeopardizing their finances or careers.